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Libya: How Colonel Gaddafi continues to haunt the living

By Laurent De Saint Perier
Posted on Tuesday, 13 October 2020 18:25

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad shout slogans as they carry a photo of Muammar Gaddafi during a rally at Avenue Habib Bourguiba in Tunis April 20, 2013. REUTERS/Anis Mili

The Guide’s shadow hangs over several ongoing legal cases, not to mention the persistent instability in the Sahel region.

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s remains were buried in secret in the Sirte desert in October 2011, but his ghost continues to haunt the world without respite. There’s even a person who claims to have seen the Guide praying in the South Saharan steppe in Chad in 2019.

In early October, the packets of mouldy, faded banknotes seized by French investigators from a cellar in Limoges, France were a tangible reminder of Gaddafi’s now legendary vanished loot.

READ MORE Libya: When Muammar Gaddafi played political football

The banknotes, full of history, are recognisable: they are part of €160m worth of notes in denominations of €100 and €200 printed and numbered in 2010 by Deutsche Bundesbank, Germany’s central bank, at Gaddafi’s behest. Stored in a vault at the Central Bank of Libya in Benghazi, some of the banknotes became damp and mouldy after a pipe burst nearby.

Wide-scale money laundering

At the end of 2017, when Islamists fled Benghazi as General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) gained control of the city, the loot was taken by Saddam Haftar, one of the general’s sons and the head of a brigade. Saddam used the €80m that made it out of the water leak unscathed to buy weapons.

The other soiled half of the notes have been part of wide-scale money laundering.

Via Turkey, they made it back to Europe in small batches, purchased at a fraction of their face value. The couple arrested in Limoges had bought their slice of the loot at a discount of 50% to 75% of the cost of new banknotes. They got a hold of €75,000, one thousandth of the stained jackpot.

Not far from Limousin, France, other assets that left Gaddafi’s treasure trove a long time ago have been making the former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, very nervous. On 24 September, the Paris Court of Appeal gave the green light to go ahead with an investigation, despite Sarkozy’s efforts to challenge it, conducted by Mediapart, which eight years ago published a Libyan document mentioning a €50m payment – in the form of banknote-filled suitcases – made to the right-wing candidate’s 2007 presidential campaign.

READ MORE Libya campaign funding: Nicolas Sarkozy is back in court

The inquiry led by anti-corruption judges Aude Buresi and Marc Sommerer can thus proceed. In March 2018, Sarkozy and eight other individuals were under investigation on charges of “passive corruption, concealment of embezzlement of Libyan public funds and illegal campaign financing”.

Just a few weeks earlier, the ex-French president published the first volume of his memoirs, Le temps des tempêtes (The time of storms), in which he settles the score somewhat post-Gaddafi’s death, as he describes the Libyan leader as having “a sick mind”, calls him a “pathological egoist” and observes that “he exuded dissatisfaction”.

‘The price to pay’

Why then did the French leader give a royal Paris welcome to such a person in his election year? Sarkozy writes in his book that it was “the price to pay” to secure the release of the nurses Gaddafi had imprisoned, but the Libyan Guide seemed to have other ideas.

According to Zahra Mansour, one of the leader’s former bodyguards who was interviewed by the French television channel France 2 in 2018, Gaddafi told her the following: “Zahra, don’t worry, if Sarkozy is so nice, it’s because he’s simply paying us our due.”

The former bodyguard’s honesty doesn’t seem to have sparked France’s gratitude, as the country’s Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA) rejected Mansour’s umpteenth asylum application in December 2019 on the grounds that she was involved in Gaddafi’s ousted regime.

Another person close to the colonel with an uncertain legal status is none other than his own son and designated successor, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, located by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in November 2019 in Zintan, south of Tripoli, where less official sources said he had been since his capture in 2011.

READ MORE Libya: Gaddafi’s son sentenced to death

He is wanted by Tripoli, as a court there sentenced him to death in 2015 and has refused to grant him amnesty. In March 2020, the ICC’s Appeals Chamber confirmed the admissibility of the case against Saif al-Islam for crimes against humanity, but authorities in Zintan officially released him in 2017.

He has yet to resurface ever since he announced his bid in 2018 for a future presidential election. If the tentative agreement reached at the end of September between rival Libyan factions in Bouznika, Morocco, pans out – providing for elections to be held by April 2022 – the Guide’s supposed heir could quickly turn up, like a card brandished by one clan or another, or as a truly independent political player.

A nightmare for the Wahhabi Kingdom

While his son stays silent, the Guide’s voice has risen from the grave to haunt the dreams of Saudi Arabia’s leaders. In May, a conversation between the Libyan dictator and Oman’s foreign minister, recorded sometime between 2005 and 2007, was leaked.

READ MORE Leaked conversation: Libya’s Gaddafi sought to replace Saudi Arabia’s ruling family

In the recording, Gaddafi talks about his plan to divide Saudi Arabia and get rid of the religious Wahhabi and Saudi royal family factions. A wave of protests in Qatif, a city located in the oil-rich, Shia-majority Eastern Province, in 2011 made this nightmare scenario look like a real possibility. The demonstrations were violently quashed while war broke out in Libya, ushering in a lasting period of division.

For many, the chaos that ensued after Gaddafi’s ouster is their most painful memory of Gaddafi and his Jamahiriya system. “Before conflict erupted in Libya, did you ever hear about a black man, an African, blowing himself up to kill other Africans? […] Drug and human trafficking didn’t exist prior to the Libya conflict. Our countries had peaceful relations,” said Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno during an interview in late 2019 on Radio-France Internationale.

“We learned about the decision to intervene in Libya over the radio. Today, we’re the ones suffering the consequences,” said Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou just a few days later.

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